Contact Info

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Oh Deer.

We left Blair, Nebraska en route to Phoenix, Arizona (why? a story for another post) before dawn. By the looks of it, we had missed a major hailstorm just minutes before passing through Omaha. Cars were spun around, lanes were closed and emergency vehicles were lined up with lights flashing, illuminating the piles of bright white hail on the sides of the road. Glad we didn't get mixed up in that! Once clear of the big city, we were flying down Interstate 80 at 75mph, the most comfortable speed for our truck with the camper loaded.

Around 7am we always start looking for the next available coffee shop on the road. This 4100 mile road trip sometimes required extensive research to find a caffeine stop, the sparsely populated areas we were traveling through were a particular challenge. I was scrolling through the Google Maps "Coffee" search feature trying to estimate just how far we'd have to drive for a cup of energy when


"What the hell was that?"

I looked up at Mark, his eyes wide and hands shaking a bit on the wheel. "Deer."

It was only then I realized the lower half of the driver's side windshield had a deer head-sized indentation, and Mark's lap and most of the front seat was covered with fine shards of glass. He slowly eased the truck over into the breakdown lane and moved as far as possible off the road. Unfortunately, because of the torrential rain Nebraska had suffered all year, the ground on the side of the highway was a gooey, tire sucking mess. We were off the road, but not far enough off to be comfortable opening the driver's side door so close to the traffic lane.

I hopped out and dug around in the glove box for napkins to help brush the glass off Mark's lap and the seat. We were so pumped with adrenaline we didn't realize every brush against the shards was making tiny cuts in our fingers and bare legs. After getting most of it onto the floor mats, I peeked around the side of the truck and signaled when it was safe for him to get out.

Holy shit.

It happened so fast it was hard to tell exactly what happened, but judging from the body damage we pieced it together. The deer was running from the median strip across the lanes, hitting the front quarter panel with it's chest, it's head whipping around and smashing the window. From there its body must have flipped and slammed and slid down the side of the truck, shearing off the driver's side mirror and leaving it hanging by its now useless electrical connections. The body (because I'm pretty sure it was an instant death) must have flipped around again because there was a huge dent in the back quarter panel as well, just beneath the camper. There was deer hair and feces smeared over the back side panel, brush guards of the bumper, and under the camper rail, the icing on the cake if you will.
Interstate 80, where cars go 80, and deer play chicken.

The only thing Mark remembers seeing is the deer's eyes in the windshield before it hit. I think it still haunts him today.

After calming down a little, and brushing more glass off the seat, we got back in and limped our way to the next exit, listening for any weird engine sounds, unsure if anything but the body damage we had seen was affected. Milford was the closest town, so we headed there on the advice of the nice ladies at the gas station at the exit.

Milford is exactly seven blocks long. It looked like it served the farmers in the area, having a small grocery, a small coffee shop, a small auto repair shop, a one pump gas station, and various empty store fronts. We stopped in for coffee, mostly to gather our wits a bit since we had no need for caffiene at this point. The owner shook her head as she poured our drinks, "My husband hit a deer last week. So scary!"

Head smack

Where once there was an electronic adjustable mirror, only shredded wire remains.

Seriously reconfigured quarter panel
The auto shop there had just opened for business for the day, and after expressing their sympathy told us their windshield guy only came in once a week. They said our best bet was to drive back to Lincoln and find an auto glass place there.

The deer left more than dents.

Not wanting to get back on the interstate with a damaged windshield and no side mirror, we took the frontage road the 20 miles back to the city of Lincoln. As Mark carefully peered around the smashed part of the windshield, I googled "auto glass replacement" and made my way down the list of shops, calling for appointments. The first place said they could get us in the next day. Nope! Not gonna stay another night in Nebraska, as nice as our visit had been. The next place said they could get us in around noon. Better than tomorrow! We made the appointment just as we crossed the Lincoln city limits.

Having nowhere else to go, and very nervous driving around in a damaged truck, we drove straight to Capital Auto Glass and parked in front. We went inside and asked if we could hang out until our appointment time. The guy offered us coffee, and also offered to call around for a new side mirror. Another customer in the waiting room overheard our story and offered to drive us somewhere and buy us breakfast. As we were talking to him, a delivery truck pulled up with our windshield and the shop manager told the warehouse guy to pull our truck in. They moved our appointment to the front of the line and by the time our windshield was in, the mirror had arrived and they installed that too. All in all, we drove away with a sparkling new windshield and a gently used mirror exactly one hour and thirty minutes after driving into town.

The good guys in this story. If you ever find yourself in Lincoln, NE with busted glass, call them.

Deer hit: 7:30am
Arrival at glass repair shop: 9:00am
Back on the road: 10:30am

Incredibly, we made it to our scheduled campsite in Colorado that day before sunset.

Over the last 18 years we estimate we have driven an average of 6,500 miles annually in the interstates, rural highways, county lanes and backroads of every western state and Canadian province. While we have hit a few small animals and run over a couple of unfortunate reptiles, we have never even come close to hitting a deer.

Moral of this story: If you must hit a deer, do it in Nebraska. The state might not have towering mountains, deep canyons or dramatic coastlines, but damn they have the nicest, most helpful people on earth.

We are deeply indebted to you Nebraska. We'd love to visit again, but honestly, we aren't sure our old truck can take any more hits from your hulking corn-fed wildlife.

On our way back on 80, we passed our old friend.
R.I.P.  Deer

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Eternal Questions of the Midnight Mind

My birthday is almost upon me, and honestly, I'm feeling it this year. Something about being so close to (and in some instances, qualifying for) a senior discount is unsettling.

I used to tell myself that it's just a number, it doesn't matter how old I am as long as I feel ok and can physically do what I want, but lately I've been overtaken by doubt. The weirdest worries start creeping in while I'm laying in bed not sleeping because I'm getting to the age where sleep is actually a problem and hey! that's another worry, isn't not sleeping bad for you? Here's just a sampling of what's running through my head at 2am. And 3am. Then again at 4am:

  • What if I actually succeed at losing the middle aged spread I've gained and end up looking worse? Is the fat filling in the lurking wrinkles and making me look younger?
  • How is it possible to have so many gray hairs, but the ones that are starting to sprout on my chin are my original hair color? And why do they grow so fast?
  • Is my indigestion an oncoming heart attack, or is it due to the fact I ate a cookie after dinner? And how is it I used to be able to eat cookies for dinner and suffer no ill effects?
  • How can I fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV at 8:30pm and sleep like the dead, but when I drag myself to bed at 10:00pm I'm wide awake?
  • How much money do I need before I can retire? How long will I live? And what does cat food taste like anyway?

Mark and I always argue about who will go first. "I'm out before you," I'll say, "you're in much better shape." " Oh no, I'm going first," he insists, "women always live longer than men." Now I'm starting to think, yeah, I do want to go first–I don't want to figure out how to live without Mark around–but not yet. I'm not done with life, I've got too many things left on my bucket list, which seems to be continually growing.

While I do admit parts are starting to break down a little (my knees complain a bit if I walk or run  too far, that wrinkle-filling weight isn't going away fast, even with knee-pain-inducing levels of exercise) I still feel relatively good. I haven't had any major health problems, nothing's really tripped me up yet.

That uneasy feeling though, it won't go away. It feels like something is out there that I need to do, but I don't know what it is, and I feel like I'm running out of time. Somebody needs to give me a hint, because my old brain just can't seem to come up with it.

Future retirement location?
We might be able to afford this fixer-upper when we retire.
Rhyolite, NV

I think about all my older relatives and how they dealt with this. Everyone seems to have a different approach. Mark's grandfather, who retired in his 50s and lived well into his 90s, always had the same response for the 20+ years I knew him:

"How ya doing Grandpa?"

I always know my Mom is doing ok when she responds "Functioning normally." My family isn't super expressive, but it gets the point across.

On the flip side, a few of the older relatives used to go into great, blush-inducing detail about their woes, to the point you wanted to tear your eyes out and stuff them in your ears so you didn't have to bear witness anymore. I think it made them feel better though, to get it off their elderly minds and shift the worry to someone else for a bit. That, and toward the end I don't think there was much else for them to talk about.

I have a notion that not many people have it figured out, at least that's my hope. I can't be the only one who doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up yet. I'll just keep plugging away and hope I'll stumble across the answer one of these days. And, if life turns out to have no higher purpose, then perhaps I can find happiness in knowing I did the best I could, and didn't make too many people unhappy in the process (myself included).

May you all have a successful and fulfilling April, the month of my (and many others of course)  birth.

And if you think of what it was we were supposed to be doing, drop me a line will you?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Oregon Coast Part II: The Campgrounds

The long beach of Cape Blanco

Oregon is a funny state.

For us, it's always been our "drive-over" state: we've crossed it in one day on our way to Alaska, Idaho, and of course Washington; we've dipped in and out when traveling in the most northern parts of California and along the western edge of Idaho. I feel bad we haven't taken the time to explore it more thoroughly because it truly is a beautiful place.

It's quirky too. As of January 1, 2018, Oregon passed a law allowing you to pump your own gas in certain areas. Yes, you read that right, Oregon had a ban on self-serve gas pumps, and still does for most of the state. And I tell you, nothing feels as emasculating as sitting in your full size 4x4 truck with 4" lift kit, winch bumper and heavy duty brush guards while an elderly woman struggles to lift the pump high enough to reach the gas filler. The state has various reasons not to allow the average citizen to pump their own: health hazard, fire hazard, and requiring proper training are a few. All I know is if all gas stations in Oregon suddenly went fully self-serve tomorrow, there would be a steep learning curve for many. Twice I saw big burly guys standing bewildered in front of the pump, not sure where to put their credit card. The elderly attendant helped one of them, gently taking the card out of the guy's hand and sliding it through the reader. She was kind about it, but I believe I saw a hint of a smirk on her face.

We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds in Oregon. We were dumbstruck to find an open campsite on a holiday weekend, a feat that could never happen in California. Finding a campsite without a reservation in our home state anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a frustrating and discouraging experience. Unless you know where and when you want to be and have the forethought to reserve a site six months in advance, you are out of luck. Far too many people and not enough campgrounds make for a sad trip if you're not prepared to camp off the grid–if you can even find a place that allows that. (Unfortunately, there are now more restrictions on camping on BLM and National Forest lands for various reasons we won't get into here. Far too depressing.)

Oregon State Parks rely on volunteers to host the campgrounds and from what we saw, they take their jobs very seriously. There are rules to camping which most people follow on their own. Oh sure, over the years we've occasionally had trouble with people using generators during quiet hours and maybe a few groups that get a little loud around a campfire. Never have I felt more confident that our camp neighbors would be good citizens than in Oregon. We were greeted when we rolled in, handed the rules when we paid, checked on 10 minutes after setting up, and hailed every half hour by the old guy in the golf cart "just checking up on things." The place was spotless and organized and patrolled as closely as any military zone.

It feels funny to write this (being pretty close to a member of this group ourselves) but it was strange to travel in a place where the predominant population is in the "white retirement age" demographic. The lack of diversity is jarring at first. We wandered into the full campground on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, walked the loops and realized there was not one group or individual of any shade of anything but white there. And the average age of the campers, if I had to guess, was 62. An interesting development for a state that boasts the proud city of Portland, an urban area of young professionals that can out-liberal San Francisco on a good day, well known for it's free-thinkers and inclusivity (is that a word? If so they coined it in Portland).

We camped every night of the trip, a total of 6 nights in 6 different campgrounds in Oregon, and every one was run the same way. Each had at least two hosts for campground duty, and in one we counted six designated host campsites, resplendent with fifth wheel trailers, temporary fencing for small barking dogs, decorative wind socks and reclining camp chairs on astroturf rugs. While it seemed a bit like overkill, we appreciated the fact that they cared so much for the parks because it really showed. Not a spec of trash anywhere, and thoughtful hosts were willing to answer any question we had. It was a lovely experience, so much so that we wouldn't mind going back every year. Here's a rundown of the campgrounds we visited:

Alfred A. Loeb State Park

Our first stop in Oregon just outside Brookings, just on the other side of the California state line. Located along the Chetco River, it's a pretty park with river access for boats, swimming and fishing. There's a nice little nature trail loop and driving access to the river bank if you feel you must drive onto the gravel beach. Being a holiday weekend, several families in big trucks were parked along the beach and had set up umbrellas and barbecues for a picnic. It was surprisingly hot that day; once we drove even a few miles east on Chetco River Road away from the coast the weather turned uncomfortably warm.

The dogs hopped out of the truck and assumed the camping position. They enjoyed their time at Alfred A. Loeb State Park.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park

A beautiful campground tucked in the trees in the hills above the ocean. You couldn't see the beach from there, but that was a blessing in disguise; the adjacent Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and beach was open to ATVs and the hill that separated us from them blocked the whining engine noises. There was a pretty little lake accessible by trail from the campground. After dinner that night, we walked the trail all the way around and had it mostly to ourselves. In fact, we pretty much had the whole campground to ourselves.

The lighthouse and visitor's center is a short drive from the campground. You could walk, but to my knowledge there was no trail so you'd have to take your chances on the narrow road. Same story with the beach access.

Lake Marie, accessible directly from the campground at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
There was a nice trail that ran around the lake, as shown by Hiker Mark.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
Trask River County Campground, Tillamook County

We were looking for a campground as close as possible to our northernmost goal: the Tillamook Cheese factory. We wanted to be close enough to get there around opening time, stuff ourselves with cheese and ice cream, then dart back out to the coast to get into Cape Lookout campground before it filled up. It's a great spot along the Trask River, which actually runs along the backside of the campsites. We found ourselves the only ones there, so chose the very best spot along the river. Our only complaint was the extravagant fees they charged. The river sites were $37.83, and we were expected to add tax, and an extra $6.00 fee PER DOG. That came to a grand total of $53.58 for the pleasure of a pit toilet, water faucet (across the campground) and a beat up wooden picnic table. It was almost worth it to have the place to ourselves, but with those prices they could've offered hors d'oeuvres or something...

Our lonely campsite in Trask River Campground. It was quiet, that's for sure.

The Trask River runs through it. Pools along the river behind our campsite.

Cape Lookout State Park

This was Mark's favorite campground of the trip. Situated on a sand spit between Netarts Bay and the ocean, it's a pleasant mix of sand, trees, hiking trails and warm sandy beach. The dogs had a great time too, since in Oregon they allow leashed dogs on both hiking trails and on the beach (another California no-no in most places). There is a choice of forested and sandy dune sites, and it's a short walk to either the beach or trailheads that lead to Cape Lookout point. This park is only one and a half hours from Portland, which must have accounted for the crowds–we got one of the last sites when we pulled in at noon–so reservations during peak season are probably a good idea.

The wide beach, Cape Lookout in the distance.
The trail that leads to Cape Lookout point.
Thick forests of mussels grew on the rocky cliffs along the beach.
The sun sets as the waves rolled in at Cape Lookout beach.

Cape Perpetua National Forest

This campground is situated along a creek that runs the length of a small shaded valley. The sites were well spaced along the one road that leads both in and out of the campground (no loops). There are hiking trails up the valley to the Giant Spruce Tree and out to the coast, where there is a nice visitor's center with maps and information about the area. There were multiple natural wonders to explore there: A blow hole, tide pools, a beautiful uncrowded beach and the interesting Devil's Churn. A long crack in the volcanic rock allows the waves to roll way up the hillside until the ever narrowing crack causes the water to break and slosh around. It reminded me of the old washing machine we had before the water saving front loader models became the norm.

The base of the Giant Spruce, with Mark and the dogs for scale.

The cove and beach at Cape Perpetua
The Devil's Churn.
Why does the Devil get credit for all the cool things in nature?

There was much to find in the tide pools at Cape Perpetua

Cape Blanco State Park

Now this, this was MY favorite of them all. A beautiful campground set in the trees along a bluff that overlooks a long narrow stretch of sand. A picturesque lighthouse, so perfectly placed on the windswept grassy bluff it looked to be a painted backdrop. There was a road leading from the campground down to the beach (if you needed it, we walked down) with bluff side benches available to watch the spectacular sunset. There was also a historic ranch house there, the Patrick Hughes House, with friendly docents that were eager to give you a tour and share the history of the area. It was quiet, comfortable, beautiful, perfect. It didn't hurt that it was also warm and wind-free that day. When I am having a bad day at work I think about this place. Just writing about it makes me smile.

Our campsite was huge, and I swear, one of the twelve campground hosts must have vacuumed it before our arrival, it was so clean.
Even the roads in the park were gorgeous.
The road down to the Patrick Hughes House.
The picture perfect Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

The sun sets over Cape Blanco, making for a stunning last night on the Oregon Coast.